A controversial old-age pension reform has been losing ground ahead of a nationwide vote on September 24. An opinion poll shows the outcome remains wide open.
Compared with a previous survey by the GfS Bern research and polling institute in mid-August, support for the overhaul of the social security system, including an increase in value added tax (VAT), has dropped by about three percentage points and stands at 50% and 51% respectively.
Five per cent of respondents in the poll, which was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and published on Wednesday, are still undecided.
“Supporters of centrist parties, protest voters and the younger generation could possibly tip the result,” says Lukas Golder, co-director of GfS Bern.
He adds that the highly complex subject matter makes it particularly difficult for voters to make an informed choice and for pollsters to analyse the survey results and draw conclusions.
What’s more, not only are the votes on pension and VAT directly linked, but a majority of voters and cantons have to approve the tax hike to give the green light for the reform.
“Our latest poll found that a number of citizens could opt for an irrational voter behaviour, approving the pension reform but rejecting the VAT increase or vice versa,” Golder says.
Political scientists expect a close result and an above-average turnout on September 24 but not a record partly because of growing uncertainty among voters, who are faced with a multifaceted issue.
The sweeping pension reform foresees raising the retirement age for women from 64 to 65 in line with men, a reduction in the so-called minimum conversion rate for assets accumulated in compulsory occupational pension plans to 6%, and a slight increase in VAT. To compensate, all new pensioners will receive an additional CHF70 ($72) a month.
Parliament approved the plan by a wafer-thin majority earlier this year amid opposition from rightwing and centre-right parties. Parties in the centre and on the left have come out in favour of the government-sponsored reform.
Facts and emotions
The campaigns over the past few weeks have been increasingly dominated by fact-based controversy and less by high emotions, according to Golder. “This was against our own expectations.”
The role and credibility of Interior Minister Alain Berset, who is in charge of the government’s social security portfolio, plays a key role in the campaign, notably for supporters of centrist parties.
The pollsters found that the most popular argument in favour remains that the time is right to approve a balanced compromise solution, while opponents argue the reform is not fair, notably to the younger generation.
While the polarisation between supporters of the political left and right has increased over the past few weeks, the gap between the French-speaking part of the country (leaning towards approval) and the majority German-speaking community (more likely to reject the reform) has remained unchanged.
Opposition among male respondents in the survey has increased to pass above the percentage of women who have come out against, but it still falls short of a majority.
Conflicting vote recommendations by cantonal chapters of the same political parties and interest groups in the different language regions is further complicating the situation, says Golder.
A vote on a constitutional amendment to food security, which will also be decided on September 24, looks set to win an overwhelming majority. Nearly 70% of respondents in the GfS poll said they would approve the proposal.
All major parties have come out in favour and there’s been very little campaigning on the issue.
The amendment was proposed by parliament in response to an initiative by the country’s main farmers’ association. As a result, the people’s initiative was withdrawn and will not figure on the ballot sheet.
Pollsters interviewed 1,408 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country for the second of two nationwide surveys.
Swiss expatriates are not included in the poll for data protection reasons.
The telephone interviews, both with fixed-line and mobile-phone users, took place from August 30 to September 6.
The margin of error is 2.7%.
The survey was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company, and was carried out by the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.end of infobox